I Broke My Cardinal Call Center Rule, And Accomplished Exactly Nothing

In many cases, the difference between being able to book an airline award ticket, or feeling like your miles are worthless comes down to call center agents.

While some programs have great websites, others leave you at the mercy of a front-line representative who often isn’t well trained, and almost certainly isn’t motivated to help. That’s why we always advocate being polite and friendly, no matter how frustrating it gets, and to not expect agents to know the rules of the program. Or geography.

Truly, the biggest secret to award booking (and my number one rule) is to be super nice to call center agents, and know when to take a break.

I just broke both those rules, with the expected result, so figured I’d recap the situation as an example of why we say these things. 😉

A client needed a relatively simple change to a Singapore Airlines award booked through KrisFlyer. The return date was changing, and they wouldn’t be returning to the city of origin, so we couldn’t do the change online even though space was available. Singapore doesn’t have my favorite call center, but a change like this (one passenger, native program, multiple award seats available) should be very easy.

Narrator: It wasn’t.

Call #1

Roger [not his real name]: Thank you for calling Singapore Airlines, this is Roger, how may I help?
Me: Hi Roger, how are you doing today?
Roger (taken aback): Fine ma’am, how can I help?
Me: I’m trying to change an award ticket, can I give you the record locator please?
Roger: Okay, yes.
Me: It’s [   ], and I only need to change the return.
Roger: Okay, the flight now is Beijing to Sydney and return, yes?
So far so good!
Me: Yes, and I need to change the date of the return, and instead of Beijing the return will be to Shanghai.
Roger: Okay, so where do you want to go instead of Sydney?
Me: Oh, sorry, the outbound flights to Sydney are perfect, we just need to change the return.
Roger: Yes ma’am, so instead of Sydney, you want what?
Me: Roger, I’m so sorry, my dog is barking at something and I need to go check it out. I’ll call back later, but thank you for your help.
Roger: Thank you for calling Singapore.

I can generally tell within about 20 seconds if a phone agent is going to be helpful or not. Even if they’re not going to be proactive, in most cases I can guide an agent towards what I need, given enough time. But I’m also perfectly happy to call a few times until I get an agent who seems willing to help.

So, I called again.

Call #2

Roger: Thank you for calling Singapore Airlines, this is Roger, how may I help?
Me (not immediately realizing it’s the same rep): Hi Roger, how are you doing today?
Roger: Fine ma’am, how can I help?
Me: I’m trying to change an award ticket, can I give you the record locator please?
Roger: Okay, yes.
Me: It’s [   ], and I only need to change the return.
Roger: Okay, the flight now is Beijing to Sydney and return, yes?
Me: Yes, and I need to change the date of the return, and instead of Beijing the return will be to Shanghai. I have flight numbers if that’s helpful.
Roger: Okay, so the new date is?
Me: 15 March, ideally flight SQ212 from Sydney, connecting to SQ836 from Singapore
Roger: 15 March, Shanghai Pudong or Shanghai Hongqiao?
Narrator: SQ does not have service to SHA
Me: PVG please.
Roger: Okay, 15 March Sydney to Shanghai what flight?
Me: SQ212 from Sydney, connecting to SQ836 from Singapore please
Roger: Okay, SQ212 from Sydney to Singapore, SQ836 from Singapore to Shanghai Pudong for one passenger in business class?
Me: Yes please.
Roger: I have added you to the waitlist, and they will email you if something becomes available.
Me: Umm…there is a lot of saver availability showing on the website, can we please just make the change?
Roger: Singapore has different availability online than here in the offline call center.
Narrator: They do not, at least not where the website has more than the call center.
Me: Okay, can you change it to any of the flights on that date?
Roger: It is only waitlist ma’am.
Me: Huh. Are the segments individually available at the saver level?
Roger (responding too quickly to have actually checked): No, only waitlist.
Me: Okay, thanks for adding it to the waitlist, have a great day!
Roger: Thank you for calling Singapore.

I have no idea what was happening here, but the agent obviously had wrong information. It could be a system error, he might not have known how to look at award space properly — there’s a million possibilities, but since the airlines don’t pay me to investigate their training lapses, I try to just move on.

I unfortunately didn’t realize until the third call that I’d had the same agent multiple times (ProTip: always write down the name of the person you’re speaking with, so you can choose whether to speak with them again), otherwise I could probably have avoided the disaster of Call #3.

Call #3

Roger: Thank you for calling Singapore Airlines, this is Roger, how may I help?
Me (internally cursing all of existence): Hi Roger, sorry, I just wanted to check in again on the return for record [   ]. Would you mind looking again for me please?
Roger: There is only the waitlist ma’am.
Me: Okay, it seems we might be having some technical challenges here, could you please transfer me to your support desk or a supervisor?

Note: This is the wrong approach. Don’t do this. It’s not helpful. You’ll just end up mad.

Roger: I’m sorry, we have very high call volume today, so it is not possible.
Me: Oh, I’m happy to hold!
Roger: There is nothing they can do, it is only the waitlist.
Me: I understand that’s all your system will let you do, which is why I’m happy to hold for someone with different access.
Roger: We have very high call volume, so it is not possible.
Me (wondering if 7AM on a Sunday is too early for bourbon): I’m sorry Roger, I must be misunderstanding — is there no one at Singapore Airlines that I can hold for?
Roger: Let me place you on a brief hold.
Me: THANK YOU
Roger (after 90 seconds): Thank you for holding. Ma’am, you are on the waitlist, so they will email you if a seat opens up.
Me (flabbergasted): Umm. Yes, that was quite clear. I would prefer, however, to change to any one of the flights that are available online.
Roger: Singapore has different availability online than here in the offline call center.
Narrator: This is no more true now than it was an hour ago.
Me: Roger, I promise — I’m not asking for a supervisor because I’m upset with you, and I won’t say anything to get you in trouble, I just really need to talk to someone who can help me change this itinerary to any of the 12 combinations of flights that are showing at the saver level.
Roger: There is no supervisor.
Me (having lost my senses at this point): Well, that seems like it can’t possibly be true. I will hold for a supervisor.
Roger: We have very high call volumes.
Me (looking at my wireless headphones and 15 yards of freshly-installed baseboards that need to be painted): I understand. I am more than happy to hold for as long as necessary.
Roger: Let me place you on a brief hold.
Me: THANK YOU
Roger (after 90 seconds): Thank you for holding Ma’am. I can have someone call you back within two hours.
Me (resigned): I really am okay with holding for two hours if needed.
Roger: I will take your number, and they will call.
Me: Alright, it’s a US number: 123-456-7890
Roger: Okay, so 12-344-56-780
Me (looking like this guy): Unsurprisingly, no.
Narrator: She was not proud of losing her temper like that.
Me: 1-2-3
Me: 4-5-6
Me: 7-8-9-0
Roger: And your name is?
Me: Tiffany.
Roger: Stephanie.
Me: Sure.
Roger: Thank you for calling Singapore.

Ultimately, I wanted to share this story because I know better. I understand why people get frustrated with airlines and try and escalate their situation, but it is rarely, if ever, effective.

The horrible service culture in the US often inspires people to be awful to front line employees — eventually, the thinking goes, if you’re enough of a jerk to enough people, the cable company will waive whatever fee, or the store manager will put in whatever override code is needed to allow your return.

I hate that philosophy, and try really hard not to engage at that level. Getting people to want to help you is always more effective than threatening them, and if you can’t get someone who wants to help, the best play is often to regroup and try later.

After the second call it was obvious that I wasn’t going to get anywhere, and continuing to press with an unyielding phone representative was a stupid and rookie mistake. Now I’m cranky and have a headache, he’s probably annoyed at stupid customers who don’t understand basic limitations, and most importantly — the flights still haven’t been changed.

So I’m belatedly going to follow my own advice, take my puppy snowshoeing and generally regroup, and then try calling later. Like I should have done in the first place. 

Hopefully this serves as a good reminder/warning as to why we always suggest being nice and patient and calling kindly as many times as you need to — the alternative isn’t effective.

Comments

  1. I’m wondering about the agent commenting that their Call Center has offline data? And that seems to have been the critical difference because I’ve never had any problems with Kris Flyer Call Center staff. On a similar note I called Lifemiles on Saturday for assistance with a booking from Singapore to Adelaide. I got a lovely agent who was very willing to help, but did comment that their IT system was in its weekly update phase and he could only help in an offline way until 7am in the morning. Perhaps Roger was having a similar issue?

  2. You’re more patient than I would be 😉 I like your rules about cutting the call loose when things aren’t going well, just calling back for someone else and noting the representative’s name. I usually like to ask the representative if there is anything I am missing to help open up the conversation when we reach an impasse.

    I’m thinking the “high call volume” was because they only had one guy working!

  3. @ Yitrap — Nope, not even the KrisFlyer number. I think it was just luck. It’s not that unusual for me to call airlines and get the same agent repeatedly — and sometimes that can be a really good thing!

  4. I’ve had the same call center agent when booking through SQ and surprisingly she recognized my voice the second time I called, after checking with a client that they were happy with the itinerary. I was able to book the flights without having to feed her the itinerary again. I’m sorry you had a bad experience.

    Another thing to note about Singapore Airlines is they don’t always have access to the same availability that other star carriers do. It can be very frustrating, even on a relatively simple itinerary. EF and UA show availability, but finding it with a SQ agent can seem like an exercise in futility. Be aware! !!

  5. C’mon Tiffany. You were still very polite.

    Roger was a dumbass, and how the hell you ended up speaking only to him.

  6. In general, playing this game requires the patience of a saint. I’m surprised LifeMiles hasn’t yet brought you over the edge yet. Such a great combination of glitchy website, agents with no authority or ability to get anything done (every request is flat out impossible or it requires emailing support and waiting for 1-2 days, which turns out to be much longer), and agents’ attitude that they couldn’t really care less (maybe because they know there is never, ever anything they can do right now to make the caller happy, ever).

    I wonder if LM has considered that if they fixed all these things, they could actually charge more for their miles and not have to have fire sales every 4 months…

  7. This is frighteningly similar to my own experience with the SQ call center! Tried to get them to do something relatively simple within the Krisflyer rules, got an agent who told me she couldn’t possibly do it and asked me to wait a week so she could escalate it, tried to HUCA, embarrassingly got the same agent, awkwardly tried to rescue the situation but ultimately made no progress and gave up. It’s a real issue when the employees responsible for the day-to-day operation of an awards program are less knowledgeable about the rules of the program than a reasonably well-informed customer.

  8. “I’m sorry, we have very high call volume today, so it is not possible.”

    Sounds like a typical rep in the Philippines. Even moreso after he called you Stephanie.

    HUCA!

  9. Honestly… I think you’re fine. He seemed purposely unhelpful. “Knowing” more than the customer isn’t a good look. And after the third call, anybody could and should lose their cool. Especially when he blatantly lied about not having a supervisor or ignoring your request to put you on hold.
    Being nice won’t get you around that for certain people.

  10. Always enjoy reading about your experiences trying to book, fix, change award flights. I’ve been working an AA award JFK-NRT-SGN on JAL for several months. Originally, I booked both segments in business. Then when 1st became available departing a day earlier I changed to that but was forced to accept economy for the NRT-SGN leg ( that aircraft only has economy and business). I deligently checked both BA and Alaska websites for business to become available and about 8 Days out it did and I pounced only to have multiple AA agents tell me it wasn’t available. Remembering OMAAT advice to call the Australia call center in such situations I had the reservation confirmed and ticketed in 1st JFK-NRT and Biz NRT-SGN. Without reading OMAAT, I would have accepted the information given by the first agent. Now off for two days in a Vietnam before using my QR golden ticket to Brazil. Thanks for all the great advice. BTW we did Petra using much of your advice as well.

  11. LOL Yes you need to write down names if you’re gonna HUCA! I lost it at a “premier” UA rep last month. Of course in the end, I was more angry at myself than him.

    Me: I’d like to confirm a coach award and waitlist for first.
    Him: There will be a $25 fee because you can do that online.
    Me: No I can’t.
    Him: Yes you can.
    Me: No. Customers cannot book XN and WL for I space by themselves.
    Him: How do you know about I space? Do you work here? Are you some kind of criminal?

    I almost wrote in to Oscar but figured it wasn’t worth it.

  12. I had a rather similar experience with the Singapore Airlines call center just yesterday. Except in my case, the rep was actually outright rude and condescending (a first in my many years of flying SQ, I should say). I had deliberately purchased a fare that was listed as upgradeable with miles prior to the fare structure change on Jan 20 (and would still be upgradable after 1/20 so long as the e-ticket was issued prior to that, which it was), only to be told that I simply could not upgrade it. When I explained that it was currently stated on the SQ website that that fare was in fact upgradeable, the agent merely said, without checking, you cannot upgrade because there is no availability. When I asked if the upgrade pool was separate from the regular redemption pool, the agent snapped and said, “what is so hard to understand? How can there be upgrade availability when there is no redemption availability?”

    I called back a second time later, got a different rep, who gave me the same erroneous information, put me on hold for half an hour, was only courteous when informing me of the cash price for upgrading, and when the line was inexplicably cut off in the middle of the conversation, I didn’t bother calling back.

    I’m inclined to think that when we call from the U.S., an overseas call center is reached (poor English, the agent was clearly grasping for appropriate words at points). When I’ve called while in Singapore, the experience has been totally different.

  13. “The horrible service culture in the US “– as certain and fixated as taxes.

    Did you try a different SQ office # or SIN-based#? or have a colleague/friend (in the hobby) who speaks Chinese/Singaporean to make the call for you? I know you are running a paid service but options abound. There is no need to pretend the fact that operational/lingual inequality does not exist. In US I will switch to Spanish if I can, whichever way you can get it done.

  14. I saw lots of people mentioning LifeMiles in the comments. I have to say according to the recent phone calls I made with LifeMiles customer service (to cancel my tickets) they are very nice and professional and patient. Good English and enough skills to proceed my requests.

    Maybe they improved their customer services recently?

  15. It’s a shame to hear about what other airlines are like when calling their call centers. I work for a US carrier call center and I’ve been on the phone with someone for an hour + just talking about something we both connected on as to why he was traveling. Crazy that there are such barriers out there.

  16. @ Ty — I hate to break it to you, but odds are really good that I’ve had a similar experience calling your airline — at least as far as the needing to call multiple times to get things done. Unless it’s Frontier, because I’ve never called them. 😉

  17. I wonder if there is a certain time of day PST to call the Singapore call center to talk to agents who speak good English. That’s been the main problem when talking to them for me. It takes a lot of patience. That and them not finding the same availability as I do.

  18. @Tiffany what is the reason to block your number when calling airlines? If you are calling about your own reservation, they already know who you are. So I imagine your reason is because you’re calling on behalf of someone else?

  19. @ anon — The majority of time I’m not calling for my own reservation. I also don’t generally want the computer to “help” decide how my call is routed. For example, I list my phone number in all the frequent flyer accounts for my husband and parents, in addition to my own, so best practice is to block the number and then enter the appropriate FF#.

  20. FWIW, if you’re calling a toll free number, blocking your number doesn’t do anything. They can still get it. If they’re paying for the call, they can see who is calling them

  21. Your article doesn’t surprise me, I am a platinum frequent flyer with a number of airlines and Singapore’s customer service is appealing in my view. I had occasion to fly with them before Christmas and they messed me around something rotten requiring numerous calls to call centres. Post Christmas I raised a complaint which was poorly dealt with and not addressed even after escalating so in turn I will vote with my feet and really try not to use them – give me Emirates my preferred airline anyday (even on there worst).

  22. ALL businesses do this now obfuscate lie etc etc I have come 180 degrees on businesses in and out of US. While I agree it doesn’t help to get upset it really doesn’t matter anymore. They just want our money for the least possible service. You can’t fix stupid.

  23. Corrected version due to spelling issue!

    Your article doesn’t surprise me, I am a platinum frequent flyer with a number of airlines and Singapore’s customer service is appalling in my view. I had occasion to fly with them before Christmas and they messed me around something rotten requiring numerous calls to call centres. Post Christmas I raised a complaint which was poorly dealt with and not addressed even after escalating so in turn I will vote with my feet and really try not to use them – give me Emirates my preferred airline anyday (even on their worst).

  24. While I’ve never had any complaint about SQ call centre, I was actually in a similar situation last month where I could see award availability on the website that the person in the call centre couldn’t (and I’m inclined to believe the agent, because she was really helpful apart from that). I used the app while on the phone to create that booking, and then the agent was able to see and modify it. Weird.

  25. Not sure if you already knew but sometimes the availability the agents sees is not the same as you depending on the country you’re calling from. I once could see a Sydney to Cape Town trip but the agent in Singapore couldn’t. If you try using a VPN you can check what seats are visible to other countries. I argued black and blue that I had showing on my screen availability but the agent could only see waitlist. They helped me make it appear on their website by starting the booking but not ticketing it – then they could see it. Super annoying and random.

  26. It is almost two decades already I am dealing with KF call center, I am happy with them in most of any issue. I do some search first for flight schedule and we speak using 3 letter code of airport. So far is really fine, and almost no complain. KF call center are based in SIN. My worry even actually when I call SQ when using revenue ticket, the call will be attended elsewhere, and the agents are more strict and details.. particularly when managing the reservations, ticketing of my household.

  27. I’ve had many frustrating calls with Singapore, and only very disappointing flight experiences, at least in business class. Slow service on board, bad ground service. It might be my least favorite of all the Asian carriers.
    In response to the United story, confirming XN and waitlisting for I is something many agents don’t know. It’s best to just book XN online, and then call in for the waitlisting for I inventory part, since it requires less explanation.

  28. @Yitrap @Tiffany – Just a reminder, blocking your number will have no affect on toll-free calls. So, see if you can find a local number.

  29. Keep at it and get enough material for about ten more of these articles, and that’s been my experience with Iberia on the only award I ever booked with them…

  30. Being friendly and patient my entire life with call center agents has gotten my absolutely nowhere 100% of the time. It is not in my nature to act any other way. Can’t do it. My rude sister has the world handed to her on a platter. That is how the world works. Anyone saying otherwise is lying.

  31. Roger = Rajiv (most likely) and again, if you’re not Gold or PPS, not likely you’ll get much help.

    They also know their Biz class is one of the best and are extremely stingy on seats, so service to make changes etc. is not particularly proactive.

  32. This reminds me of a first class award trip I took from SIN-NRT-LAX in 2017. I had reserved a window seat in FC and upon boarding, a very smiling young FA said: “oh, hello DrXXXX, let me show you to your seat. He showed me to a center seat (not my window seat). I demurred and said I need to be seated at my assigned seat, 2K (77W). He had the most perfectly confused look any actor could have summoned! From there on, it went downhill: my “amenity kit” was dropped off quickly with a seal that said “customs checked”. It held ONE ITEM: the cologne and it was a business class kit! Then my Book The Cook lobster meal came out sliced in half, so that there was only a bony structure left without any lobster meat showing. BTW, my “oh-let-me-show-you-to-your-seat was taken eventually by an Asian person from the back of the plane (pls-not racist, just an identifier!). The most disgusting trip I have ever had–never again on Singapore (and I have paid full-fare FC tickets before).

  33. A major problem with airline call centres is which one, in which country, your call will be routed to. For instance with LifeMiles you can call the US number, or the UK number, or the Columbian number, and you can still end up talking to someone in El Salvador! (I always ask, conversationally, where the agent is located).
    You can increase your chances of speaking to someone in the call centre you have targeted if you call well within their peak business hours; you will also increase your chances of having an actual supervisor on hand too, if things go pear-shaped.
    This tip works well with Alaska, AA to a lesser extent, but not so much with LM where the call direction is roulette-wheel like.
    At all times though HUCA is your friend and sanity preserver!

  34. “The horrible service culture in the US often inspires people to be awful to front line employees — eventually, the thinking goes, if you’re enough of a jerk to enough people, the cable company will waive whatever fee, or the store manager will put in whatever override code is needed to allow your return.”
    “I hate that philosophy, and try really hard not to engage at that level. Getting people to want to help you is always more effective than threatening them, and if you can’t get someone who wants to help, the best play is often to regroup and try later.”

    Tiffany, It isn’t a “philosophy.” It isn’t even an approach; it is usually — as with you this time, I believe — an act of desperation.
    Of course, absolutely, I would NOT approve of anyone abusing a Customer Service Representative (ironic name.)
    But, “it IS a horrible service culture.” Large corporations have barricaded themselves behind electronic contortions staffed by underpaid, undertrained, often poorly educated cannon fodder on the frontline. They have no real concern for how these folks are treated.
    Yes, it is more effective to call back, write down names, give up on Roger.
    But, please, give a little recognition to what customers are forced into: the time we waste, the manipulations and jargon we learn of necessity, the deliberate obfuscation and complexity and legal boilerplate the airlines present with their ever-changing multiple requirements and fees. We are supposed to know those ins, outs and legal defenses, but the Rogers of the world know only what suits them.
    Nasty set-up all around.

  35. As an Expat living in Singapore, the unfortunate reality is that Singaporeans, while kind and well intentioned, can’t think outside the box at all. It’s common to ask for help in a grocery store and be met with a blank stare only to have the person just walk away from you without helping. Singaporeans are policy and procedure only. That may help to explain this story

  36. @gus re:united You’re right. I now book first and call in to change. You would think that booking it right the first time from scratch would be easier but in practice it’s not!

  37. @Richie maybe, it was his lover, family member, or friend? Haha. It could have also been a fellow crew member traveling as a passenger or a very high level VIP who simply did not want to pay for first class? No matter what, your treatment was unacceptable. I never understood why people like SQ so much. From other reports I read, it seems that they only care about their super VIPs or those who paid for first class. This also reminds me of CX. Cathay is also only nice to those in first class or high-level VIPs. They are also nice to who of you are a family member or friend of the crew. In my experience, I have seen that they were very nice to those with light-skinned complexion if you know what I mean. Not to sound prejudice, but just calling out from my previous experiences with them.

  38. Always use Skype to call service centers. Unless you push the magic button, the caller ID is completely randomized and looks like it’s coming from Mars. If your gut tells you the rep is no good, waste no time. Start talking and hang up on yourself — that has to be an accident, right? Things usually sort out quickly for me, if not on the first call. The airline that consistently gives me the most trouble — in almost every aspect of customer service — is LATAM.

  39. >>a front-line representative who often isn’t well trained…<<

    as somebody who heads up the learning team responsible for training over 10,000 global call center agents (not at an airline), i take exception to this.

    i have been in the call center business in one way or another for over thirty years. people often assume that performance problems must be related to training. they certainly can be, but most times they are not.

    training addresses a lack of skill, knowledge or ability. that's it!

    if the agent didn't know how to do it, or had no practice navigating the computer systems, or didn't know how to use his other tools, then there could be a training problem… a problem that can be addressed or fixed by training.

    most times, however, when we examine a lapse in performance, we discover that there are other reasons for agents not performing as expected. their tools may be inaccessible or poorly designed. or there may be conflicting policies or goals (including talk time considerations) preventing them from performing the required behavior. and then there's that old "will vs. skill" thing. training can address a skills gap… it can't do anything for agents that lack motivation or the proper attitude or desire.

  40. Tiffany (or should that be Stephanie?) – which number did you call? I have never called kf from the US but did call recently from the UK. It was a local number but the call went through to Singapore.

    If Roger was sitting in Singapore, there’s no way there is no supervisor on duty. I know this as my friend used to work in that call centre – as the duty supervisor!

  41. Definitely a rep from the Philippines. The dead giveaway? Roger’s use of “ma’am”. Reps from Philippines always use “sir” and “ma’am”. When you are greeted with “sir”/”ma’am”, now you know.

  42. Tiffany

    Most call centers rate their staff on call handling time. “How are you doing today?”, especially in a culture where it’s not a politeness but an actual question, is terrifying. Seriously.

    Rather than hearing someone is going to be pleasant, it’s ‘oh god no, no one of these’. Hence the alarm, most likely. If your job depends on dealing with calls FAST then the last thing you want is to engage in chit chat.

    I’d keep that approach for North America. I’m in the UK, not in a call center but very time pressured. People who start a conversation like that after I just answered my phone asking how I can help don’t terrify me but I know what’s coming is an attempt to play the nice game. I’m always nice on the phone but I don’t have time to spare for chit chat given the work I do.

    I hope that makes sense! Tone of voice is best, because if you speak to lots of people believe me you can hear a lot in what isn’t said as well.

  43. Just a foot note – almost all organisations track repeat calls in and time efficiency invariably foster a ‘once and done/right first time’ approach. Sorry but I have some sympathy with him here because his responses tell me that he had checked the first time.

    I do not miss working under those conditions.

  44. Great post. If it was easy it wouldn’t be as fun or rewarding. Roger needed to be crushed…CRUSHED! Then call back and sort it out with someone else.

  45. I agree with the philosophy of “be nice to people”. It works, most of the time.

    But there are times when I have lost my temper, rightfully, and have received what I was owed. But only about every other year does this happen. Since I never fly United any more, for any reason, it’s been 3 years since I’ve lost my temper.

    I find the “I’m old and feeble and really, just plain stupid. Would you help me, please?” works very well.

  46. It seems Roger has a major crush on Tiffany and was not able to put his emotions into words, and thus the mean and hair pulling result. : )

  47. Hey Stephanie, it seems Roger was telling you the truth – there really was NO ONE else in the call center for you to speak with.

    Plus, you probably already know this, when he put you on hold he wasn’t really talking to anyone, just letting things cool off and maybe getting himself another cup of coffee.

  48. Tiffany, Can I ask why you changed the call center agent’s name? Do you not think that such poor performance (when you know it’s not correct as you can see the space) deserves to be publicly called out to improve the chances that something might be done to fix this sort of issue given the reach of this blog?

  49. @LRM Do you imagine every (or a lot of) airline PR types monitor this and similar sites regularly?
    They don’t, because they don’t really care. They do have people monitoring tweets etc to their own blogs, and mostly respond/answer them. (Alaska is a good example).
    However, sometimes someone with little skill or empathy picks it up, and gives a less than satisfactory response.
    Complaining here is whistling in the wind!

  50. I have been PPS Solitaire for at least 15 years. And have let it go since last year. It is bloody impossible to book awards as everything is always waitlisted.

  51. I tend to find the Singapore call centers for Delta, United, and SQ amazingly proficient and competent. Case in point, I booked one of those Delta/Virgin mistake fares in Business (DL ticket AKL-SYD-LAX-OAK-LAX-SYD-AKL), day of departure on the first leg Delta killed my minimum connect in LAX and I was sweating bullets now because the ticket was under airport control and I wasn’t sure that Delta would help reissue a new ticket with a new connection for a mistake fare in business class, let alone on a partner’s metal. Lo and behold bit the bullet and rang the Singapore Delta number, the guy was an absolute legend, he never mentioned anything about my mistake fare, changed my connection flight to a more comfortable connection to SFO in First Class and even walked the Virgin Australia check-in desk agent at AKL airport through the process of offloading us from the first AKL-SYD flight so that airport control would be relinquished and that he could reissue the ticket. Absolute legend that guy.

  52. Maybe you have gotten around Roger by calling from a 2nd phone, while keeping him busy on phone 1, and then hung up as soon as rep not-Roger answered phone call 2.

  53. Heh. The worst actual service I got was from a rep at AA. She actually didn’t *want* to help me, and that was a first. I think it was the distance based one world ticket (RIP), connecting from CX at JFK to DC on AA using AA miles. F wasn’t open on the JFK-DCA space when I put together most of the ticket. When it finally opened up, I gave the agent the PNR and said I wanted the F seat. Her response, “Hon, it’s such a short flight, save yourself the miles.” Ma’am, it’s a one world award ticket, I won’t save anything. “Hon, it’s a *really* short flight. It’s honestly really not worth it. I’m just trying to look out for you.” HUCA time!

  54. Use a calling app and call a call center in another country. I have to do that where I am (Korea) because for some reason the local call center hangs up when I start talking in english. Anyway, that’s a great way to get around getting the same agent, although I’ve never gotten the same agent before, ever. Much less 3 times in a row.

  55. @A Concerned Citizen said: “most times, however, when we examine a lapse in performance, we discover that there are other reasons for agents not performing as expected. their tools may be inaccessible or poorly designed. or there may be conflicting policies or goals (including talk time considerations) preventing them from performing the required behavior. and then there’s that old “will vs. skill” thing. training can address a skills gap… it can’t do anything for agents that lack motivation or the proper attitude or desire.”

    I think you are right. I think many companies in all sorts of industries, purposely make their call centers ineffective as a matter of policy. The product/service is purchased, anymore time for that customer takes away from the bottom line.
    It comes down to many companies take their customers for granted, until they have no more customers.

  56. I actually really liked the call I had recently with CX. Super nice guys and very effective. At least the UK line.

  57. >>I think many companies in all sorts of industries, purposely make their call centers ineffective as a matter of policy. The product/service is purchased, anymore time for that customer takes away from the bottom line.<<

    i think it's much simpler than this. it's not a strategy to provide poor customer service; it happens simply because different departments don't talk to each other or support each other or even understand their policies. so, while one department may train them properly, call center operations will often place talk time restrictions or sales goals or CSAT metrics on them that work in counterpoint to established policies and expected behaviors.

  58. Seriously but someone have decided that the word “customer service” has no meaning at all. Most places you call you get the same type of treatment.

  59. @ A Concerned Citizen — That’s a great point, and when I reference airline call center agents being poorly trained, I don’t always mean “not technically proficient” (although that is often true as well). As you clearly deal with, training goes beyond learning to use the tools — it’s how to use them to navigate the various priorities and department policies, and how to interact with customers.

    And at most airlines, policy and procedural changes seem to typically be communicated via poorly-distributed memos, not through a cohesive training strategy. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent guiding airline call center agents through — literally — what to click and search for in their system, and what outcomes can be expected if they do it properly. I find this especially common with the US carriers who have home-based phone representatives. Their supervision mainly seems to come from tracking tools, which I’m sure is great for measuring productivity, but deprives them of the opportunity to learn little tricks from their coworkers, or see how complex situations are resolved. But all airlines have their opportunities.

  60. It’s been my experience that the less experienced call center representatives work weekends. If I have a complicated issue or an issue that requires waiving a fee I always age it until mid week if possible to avoid the weekenders. That’s no guarantee that things will break in my favor but my worst experiences have come from weekend calls.

  61. I dont understand the assumption that he was lying.

    Having worked in a call center, agents are 100% limited by horrible software. There are no ways the play or fudge stuff, you can either click the button, or you cannot.

    If he says it is not available it is because on his screen, there is no way for him to click the button.

    Oh, and the supervisor? Call center first level supervisors are paid exactly the same but have been “promoted” because they lasted more than 2 months. They will use the exact same computer and exact same software. They don’t get special back access to anything. If they can’t click the button, they can’t do anything except make a note of it.

  62. @ JJJ — I never said he was lying in regards to the space, or that I thought he was. It was the insistence that I couldn’t speak to someone else that defied credulity.

  63. @Tiffany
    SQ KF actually does have different award seat availability depending on the point of sale. Singapore itself often has lower availability, and you often get put through to the Singaporean call centre especially if calling your local one out of business hours.
    The country flag of the KF account you’re using to see award availability is used for award POS online. However, if you call and get Singapore, they will see different availability.
    Similarly, you may see SYD-SIN and SIN-PVG available, however they might not have SYD-PVG available as a pair. Some agents will try to link them for you, and others won’t. I think it may depend on status.
    Also, waitlisting will usually clear if an award seat is available for one region but not another (ie what you were experiencing).

  64. I thought people on FT were exaggerating when they talked about the differences between individual UA call centers, and how to get what you need done by timing your calls.

    I had a complicated award itinerary reserved by the Honolulu call center, by calling late evening on the West Coast, and made the mistake of calling back the next morning to ticket once some additional availability was confirmed. Another agent somewhere else in the US really wanted to cancel out the whole thing for violating some rule, and I had to beg.

  65. I had exactly the same problem with Singapore airlines around the same time like you. I booked a flight from PVG to KNO and was trying to change the time for the SIN to KNO flight online. There was no flight available for a period of 6 or so weeks. Even when the flights itself where available. Also every destination from PVG was available. Or any origin to KNO. They put me on a wait list as well. But i had luck and the called me back a few minutes later with a confirmation. I think there must be some sort of technical problem at this time. Also it was possible to reserve a eco ticket for this leg and be on the wait list the same time. It was only a 1 hour flight, so business was not prio 1. But like i said i turned out fine for me.
    BTW: i was very friendly because i agree 100% with you. Be friendly and you get what you want.

  66. I was thinking that maybe when the call gets connected and the agent is still Roger. While still connected to Roger, you could use another phone or mobile to call the same call center number and hopefully you get connected to another agent. I know its a selfish act wasting agent’s precious time while he could serve other customer but from your post it seems like you were desperate enough to have the flight change confirm.

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